This is another musing on new metrics for success in ministry.
Wanna know a secret?
My experience tells me that you will have one of two responses to that statement.
Either you'll tell me that I'm not fat (thanks for being nice, but yes, I'm fat. My BMI puts me in the morbidly obese category.) or you'll say "that's not exactly a secret."
I've been fat for as long as I can remember. There are pictures of me as a thin kid, but I honestly don't remember that. As long as I've had body awareness, I've been fat.
As a kid, I had the benefit of lots of family. Both sets of my grandparents lived in the same small town I did. My great grandma lived close enough for regular visits. In so many ways, I benefited from that. But in at least one way, it wounded. One of my grandmas and my great grandma both told me I was fat and wouldn't amount to anything. They compared me unfavorably to other relatives. They saw me as someone who needed correction. There was something wrong with me that needed to be dealt with.
My other grandma loved me. Not to say that those two didn't love. But their love always came with negative words. Judgment. But this grandma loved me as I was... unconditionally. If you're a long-time reader of my blog, you've heard about her before. Unfortunately for me, (at least in this context) her favorite love language was food. Baking. Cookies. Everybody knew she always had a full cookie jar. First thing when you walked into her house, you'd see what kind she'd made.
So two grandmas told me I was worth less because I was fat (and so does society at large), and one told me I was loved just the way I was... and loved me with cookies. It's no wonder I'm fat...
I tell that often. It's a great laugh-line. If only it was just a stand-up act. But it's not. It's my life. Deep down inside, I honestly believe that I am inferior because of my weight. That nobody can really love me because I'm fat. That if I were just thin then much of my life would be better.
When my wife was pregnant with our eldest daughter, we started attending an aerobics class. I went three times a week, hating every second of it. I adopted a strict diet. Between the two, the weight fell off. During that pregnancy, I dropped 85 pounds (I know, questionable timing to be dropping serious weight as your wife is gaining... but she wasn't offended). At first, I felt really good about myself. People started noticing. They congratulated me. They told me how great I was looking. They told me how proud they were. But you know what I heard? "Now that you're thinner, you're more valuable. You're more lovable. You're acceptable."
And you'd never guess what else I discovered... my life didn't magically improve. All of those things I thought would get better, didn't. So I said "screw it all." I stopped the exercise class and started eating what I wanted. Of course, all of the weight came back.
To this day, I struggle with my value because of my weight. My health is great. I'll argue with you that obesity in itself isn't hazardous to my health. And the last time I went to the doctor, he agreed that the science is now showing more clearly that obesity isn't causative, but correlated with disease. In other words, some things that make you fat also make you sick, but being fat, in and of itself, doesn't.
But deep down inside, where it really matters...
I still know.
I'm worth less because I'm fat.
So where am I going with this? Because it's really not a pity party. I'm not looking for sympathy.
My point in all of this is simple. We all have that one area in our lives. That one thing that we believe makes us inferior. That one habit, physical trait, emotional response, behavioral issue, addiction, or whatever else it might be. We all have something that convinces us that...
If people really know us they'll reject us.
So we hide it. We deny it. We ignore it. And we hope nobody finds out.
Mine is undeniable. It's front and center. It's self-evident. But not everybody's is. Most people do a good job of covering up their shortcomings.
That's what makes religion so toxic.
Jesus referred to whitewashed tombs. On the outside everything looks great. But inside, rot, decay, death.
Let me paint a picture. All week long we struggle. Then on Sunday morning, we put on our best clothes, paint on a grin and go present our best face to our friends at church. We advise each other against "airing our dirty laundry" and we live in shame. We know that inside, we're broken, falling apart, dying. But we put up a false front, knowing that if we were really truly known, we wouldn't be welcome, we wouldn't be accepted, we wouldn't be loved.
We keep people at a distance because of our imperfections. We miss out on the benefits of relationship. With other people. With God.
That's why one of the key indicators of a healthy, successful church culture, in my never humble enough opinion, HAS TO BE...
Open, vulnerable, dirty, messy, painful, stinking transparency.
The only time we can truly know that we're loved is if we're loved in our own stink.
When all of our dirty laundry has been aired. Our make-up is off. We're sitting around in our sweats ('cause let's face it, nobody looks good in sweats) talking about the ugly things in our lives. When we can bring our deepest struggles, our ugliest secrets, our darkest sins all out into the open.
When we can do all of that and be met with compassion and acceptance, rather than judgment and rejection, we can know that we're lovable.
Once we experience that, we can start to accept the concept of intimacy.
We can accept and experience the love of God.
That's when the Church becomes the Kingdom.
A little taste of heaven here on earth.